Stacks Image 153
Print No #25

Capturing a Bizarre Elephant Rain Animal


Nineteenth-Century southern /Xam Bushman ethnographies tell of shamans in altered states of consciousness embarking on “death journeys” to the spirit realm in the depths of waterholes. To them, death was a metaphor for altered states of consciousness, also know as “trance.” In the underground spirit realm they sought out and captured “fantastic rain animals from whom they harnessed spiritual potency. The animals were then led up into the sky realm of the spirits to an area over land suffering from drought. The shamans would then kill the animal and its blood and/or milk would fall to the ground as rain.

This print depicts the capture of a strange hallucinatory elephant rain animal in a waterhole with unusual downturned tusks and a split trunk. Scattered around the beast is a large group of human figures of various sizes. The two tallest individuals carry bows and are standing behind and in front of the animal. The bowman at its rear is wearing a hunter’s pouch. His altered state is emphasized by his elongated body and foreshortened limbs; the vertical lines running through the interior of his body; the bow and single vertical arrow signifying that this is not an actual hunt; and the six lines emanating from his head indicating that his spiritual potency has exploded in his head and propelled him into trance. It appears this same individual was responsible for shooting the two arrows sticking out of the elephant’s rear leg and signifying its capture.

The bowman in front of the elephant is also elongated with foreshortened legs and has the same vertical lines running through its body. However, he also has a long tail indicating that he is transforming into a part-hum, part-animal therianthrope prior to departing for the spirit realm in the sky where the captured elephant will be transported. The figure suspended over the elelphant’s back is floating or swimming in an ecstatic state of trance and also has a tail that indicates its transformation into a therianthrope. The tall figure standing beneath the elephant is also in an altered state and is holding a vertical staff. The smaller figure to its left with side pouches is also holding a vertical staff and nearly touching one of the elephants rear legs in an attempt to harness some of its power. A smaller individual to the left of it is also harness power by touching the elephant’s rear leg with a staff or elongated arm. The remaining human figures are all in positions that indicate their altered states.
(Redrawn from M.D. Leakey, 1983 by J.A. Cavallo).